Academic Dissects Liberal Internationalism

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment


Rarely do pedagogues attack anything with the word liberal attached to it. Thus it is somewhat newsworthy when one does.


“Liberal internationalism had failed to prevent the rise of al Qaeda and the conditions which nurtured it in the 1990s, and it had no convincing program to deal with Islamist terrorism in the immediate aftermath of 9/11,” James Kurth writes in an essay distributed by the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “Moreover, it is not clear that liberal internationalism will actually be capable of meeting the challenge of the dramatic (and potentially disruptive) rise of the Chinese economy.”


Perhaps not as surprisingly, Kurth, a Swarthmore professor, offers a trenchant criticism of the arguably neo-conservative policies in place for much of the past decade. “We can now be reasonably certain that one alternative, that of the neo-conservative hypernationalists and imperialists, offers even less promise than liberal internationalism,” Kurth states. “They had their brief moment in the sun (from 9/11 to the beginning of the Iraq War, or about 18 months), and they had their chance to solve America’s grave security and economic problems.”


“They blew it by making these problems even worse than they were before.”

Kurth, though, makes clear that his problem with liberal internationalism is with the manner in which the Left has utilized it.


“It was, however, the most liberal elements within the original liberal internationalism (e.g., liberal and leftist political parties, a growing free movement across borders of capital and labor, and a growing culture of expressive individualism) which ultimately took control of liberal internationalism and transformed it into liberal transnationalism,” he writes. “Conversely, had the original liberal internationalism retained its poised balance between its liberal and its conservative elements, an authentic liberal internationalism would still exist today, and not just its current, deformed, transnationalist caricature.”


“In this original and authentic liberal internationalism, the strong national states which composed it were fully capable of implementing both restrictive immigration policies and rigorous internal-security policies,” Kurth explains. “They were also fully capable of implementing policies designed to build up their social infrastructure, increase the educational levels and productive capacities of their citizens, and enhance their economic competitiveness in international trade.”


“In other words, they would have been far more capable of dealing with the contemporary security challenge posed by Islamist terrorists and the contemporary economic challenge posed by Chinese competition than are the liberal transnationalism and the eviscerated national states (particularly in Western Europe) of today.”


Kurth goes even further away from many of his academic contemporaries to endorse policies attached to the C word—conservatism. “In summary, liberal internationalism could have a promising future, but only if it ceases to be liberal transnationalism and becomes once again liberal internationalism rightly understood,” Kurth asserts. “For that to happen, it will have to restore its lost conservative elements, making it in actuality a kind of conservative internationalism.”


“Consequently, we can conclude that, indeed, liberal internationalism does not have a promising future,” Kurth does indeed conclude. “The only real choice for the United States in global affairs in the future is between liberal transnationalism-which seeks to abolish America as a nation-and conservative internationalism-which seeks to conserve it.”


What may be problematic is the way Kurth defines conservatism. “The Chinese conception of the international economy is best characterized not as liberal internationalism but rather as conservative nationalism or mercantilism, rather like the Japanese conception from the 1950s through the 1980s, but even more so.”


This may be a bit of wishful thinking, although he does describe China’s economy as “state-guided” and “market-Leninist.” The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission warns us that “Official filings from U.S.-listed Chinese companies may not adequately disclose material information that relates specifically to China, such as the pervasiveness of Chinese Communist Party influence in the day-to-day operations of state-owned enterprises and their subsidiaries.”


If Kurth’s analysis falls a bit short on this point, we should note that he is more balanced than the professors Accuracy in Academia usually gets to cover. “I would sit completely entranced if he just walked in and read from the telephone book,” one of his two reviewers on wrote. “Pretty fair grader although a bit sparing on feedback.”

“Hard to say what his own political positions are, but he doesn’t seem to let them influence his grading.”

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

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